I really liked this movie. An homage to the dying days of the Samurai in Meiji era Japan, it starts with our protagonist Shimura Kingo (Kiichi Nakai) getting promoted to head of the bodyguards for his lord Naosuke Ii, the First Minister to the Tokugawa shogun. On a snowy day, whilst escorting Ii to the Shogunal residence, the group are ambushed and Shimura is the only survivor, after battling with one of the assassins. He returns to see the palanquin containing his charge full of swords and bloodstains. So begins his descent into shame as well as his 13 year quest for revenge and to restore his lost honour.
The middle half of the movie shows him tracking down the 5 remaining assassins only to find that due to circumstances, all have died except for one, Sahashi Jyubei played by another of my favourite actors, Hiroshi Abe.
It’s this middle part of the movie that paints the scene of a rapidly developing Japan and more particularly, its changing attitudes to modernity and the samurai. Underlying this is a pretty unsubtle theme that honour and the old ways have some validity and that Japan is losing something in its rush to embrace the West. I don’t mind this heavy handedness as the story moves along well enough. We are left to sympathise with Shimura while also getting a glimpse of what our villain, Jyubei, has become and the life he is living now and without spoiling it for you, it leaves the viewer in a quandary.
The build up to the climax is some of the best piece of cinema I have seen in a while with Shimura catching Jyubei’s rickshaw in the snow (a recurring theme and nod to the title). They each know who the other is and the acting here is first class. Even if you are not a fan of samurai flicks, this is a very fine movie and one you should definitely go and see. I am hoping it comes out in subtitled DVD so I can add it to my collection.
9 clashing katanas out of 10